'Something's up,' I said to the captain. He was peering out into the water, doing a count. I raised my voice. 'Wilson, what'd you think?' He wasn't looking up at me, wouldn't look away from the water.

'Shipwreck?' the captain asked. 'Fog's awful bad.'

'We would have heard something,' I said. 'Open your engine and get us back to shore. These are bodies, captain. No one out here to be saved.'

'We should bring 'em in. I'd want to be brought in, if my body was on the water like that.' He pulled at the brim of his cap and turned to the controls. 'Wouldn't want to be left, to pay the Fehn's percent.'

I grimaced and turned back to the water. Couldn't blame him, not after the meeting I'd just been through. I made a note to die on high ground, away from the Fehn and their immortal drowning. Still, I wanted to be back to shore. I gripped the railing tight and watched the crew go about the grim work of rescuing corpses. Wilson was still at the rail, looking down. One hand was on the brace of knives on his belt.

I was staring at the water when something deep beneath us sighed and slithered toward the surface. It was only a lightening of the depths for a second, a grayness among the black. It quickly resolved into a roiling mass of white and gray and then we were swamped, a boiling leviathan of corpses breached the surface, bodies and arms and faces, dead and white, bubbling to the surface, their skin pale and shiny against the slate blackness of the Reine. They bumped dully against the bottom of the boat, slithering up the sides and churning against the prop in bloodless chop. The crew had abandoned their places against the rail, screaming as they sought the shelter of the pilot's deck. I pushed past them, down to the deck, down to Wilson.

We were adrift in a shoal of dead bodies, formerly the Fehn. The spaces between their bodies were slick with the flat black worms of their symbiotes. A living Fehn was choked to the lungs with those things, squirming in their veins and organs in place of blood and air and brains. The worms glistened in oily death, sloughing out of slack mouths to splash dully into the water. And for every body I saw, ten more were just bobbing to the surface, pushing aside their brothers. Our engines shuddered to a halt. We were befouled.

'I don't like this,' Wilson whispered when I got to him. He was shaking, one hand on his knives.

'Who would like it?' I asked.

'No, I mean, I really don't like it. What if… what if we…' He looked up at me, his face slack.

What if we did this, he was asking. What if our little delivery had just killed off the river's dead? What kind of trouble would that be?

'Get out, ya slugs! Get back to stations!' the captain howled from his cabin. The crew cowered on the stairs, looking out on the becalmed sea of bodies. The air smelled like river rot, tinged with the burned flesh rising from our own choked propeller. The captain pushed the last of the crew down onto the deck and retreated to his nest. Hesitantly, some of the crew went below decks to see to the engines. The rest stood beside us at the railing.

'What in hell is this?' one of them whispered. I didn't have an answer, or an inkling of one. We just stared at the lumpy shoal, shivering in the breeze. The fog closed in on us, leaving just the bodies and our ship.

'Get hooks to the propeller, see if you can clear it!' the captain yelled from his comfortable perch. A few of the crew roused themselves and went aft. We all seemed to be moving in a dream. You could hardly see water for all the bodies.

'We should light a flare,' I said, turning to one of the crew. 'Or maybe the horn. Warn any other ships coming this way.'

'Captain won't have it. Not until we're closer to the dock, where we've a right to be.' The man touched his forehead in some kind of benediction. 'Signals bring Badge. Not something we want.'

'Better than being ridden under by a cargo barge,' I whispered, and looked up at the cabin. The captain was fiddling with some kind of control panel and shouting into a speaking tube. The oily reek of smoke leaked up from belowdecks.

'Should you go down to help?' I asked the man standing next to me.

'Sir? I'd rather not.' A quick succession of bangs ran through the deck, and the engine roared into brief and angry life before sputtering to a halt. 'All seems well in hand. Besides, I'm keeping watch.'

'Right.' I nodded and leaned against the rail. 'I wonder if we'll be quarantined.'

'For what?'

'Something killed them,' I said, nodding to the reef of dead bodies all around us. 'Maybe a disease, maybe some weapon.'

'Maybe the thing you delivered to them?' the man said cheerily, before realizing what he had said. 'I mean, sir, not that you meant to. You know. Meant to kill them, sir.'

Wilson and I stared him down until he ducked his head and went back to staring out at the river. The fog was even closer now. I looked down at the nearest corpse, rubbing its knobby back up against our hull. Didn't look that different from the mindless creatures I'd encountered below the surface. Only now they were insensate, immobile. As the dead should be, I suppose. Perhaps the Fehn had just lost whatever grip they held on their hosts. We knew so little about them, just that they had been in this river longer than Veridon had perched on its shore.

'Sir,' the man whispered. I looked up. His face was slack, looking out over the water. I looked. The surface rippled and lurched. Something was crawling out from between the bodies. Hands rose up, pulled up, dragged clear shoulders and heads and pearl-white torsos. They clambered onto the bodies of their fallen brothers and lurched forward.

'Oh, shit, Jacob,' Wilson whispered. 'What the hell?'

'What the hell, indeed,' I said. The revolver was in my hand.

'Sir!' the crewman shouted, backpedaling to the center of the boat. I looked around. There were more of them, many more. Only one for every dozen bodies floating around us, but there were hundreds of bodies, dozens of hundreds.

They were different, though. Still Fehn, or former members of that river-dead race. But unlike any other Fehn I'd ever seen, they bled. Black pitch tears flowed from their eyes, drooled from their tarry gums and colored their ragged teeth. It leaked in stiff rivers from torn fingernails and punctured bellies, and smeared foully across their shiny, white bodies as they stumbled over the slick landscape of their former brothers.

'Captain!' I shrieked, then loosed my iron and fired. The report was swallowed in the fog and water. The bullet struck the closest revenant square in the jaw. He stumbled, black blood slopping from the shattered bone like molasses, and then he came on. My second shot stopped him, but there were dozens more. I ran back to the small tower of the crew cabin.

'We need to get the engines started!' I yelled. The crewman I had been talking to was standing numbly against the stairs, his hand over his mouth. There was vomit at his feet. 'Crewman! Get below and get that engine going!'

Wilson ran past me, clambering down the stairs to the engine room, swearing the kind of arcane oaths I rarely heard from him. The engine was now in good hands. Or at least desperate, competent hands.

I vaulted up the stairs to the captain's perch, then bounced off the door. Behind the window I could see the captain, holding a shotgun, the barrel and stock cut close for boarding actions. He had jammed the lock on his door, and was staring at me with wide, white eyes.

'You need to get this boat moving, captain! We need to get to shore. Now.'

He shook his head like a man dreaming, backing against the far wall of the cabin. I grimaced and ran back down the stairs. They had reached the boat now, climbing over the rail with bloodslicked hands. Blood or oil, I couldn't tell.

It didn't really matter.

I smashed open a toolbox at the foot of the stairs and pulled out a splicing blade. It was heavy, a long, thick blade used to cut snarled lines and stray nets that might get tangled in the prop. On a ship like this it might also see use in a boarding action. I hefted it in my hand, giving it a couple of experimental swings to get used to its weight. A quick count put not more than ten on the decks, but dozens more nearly to us, and dozens of dozens still struggling to reach us.

'The engines, captain!' I yelled, throwing myself at the shambling horrors.

I took the first one down with the blade, two quick blows across his chest, cracking ribs and splitting maggot-pale skin. It was the blood that scared me, blood as black as pitch and hot as it splashed onto my arm. The Fehn don't bleed. The Fehn are cold and dead as river mud. He fell back against the rail and toppled over. Another one came up behind him, the river running off his bony shoulders in sheets. I kicked him in the teeth,

Вы читаете Dead of Veridon
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату